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First responders feted at Connick-Simon concert

Updated 4:19 pm, Wednesday, October 2, 2013

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  • New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 Capt. Mike Socci receives an award on behalf of the department from Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, during a benefit concert Sunday, Sept. 30, 2013, honoring first responders. The event, held at New Canaan High School, included performances from residents Harry Connick Jr. and Paul Simon, and raised money for Staying Put in New Canaan. Photo: Contributed Photo / New Canaan News
    New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 Capt. Mike Socci receives an award on behalf of the department from Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, during a benefit concert Sunday, Sept. 30, 2013, honoring first responders. The event, held at New Canaan High School, included performances from residents Harry Connick Jr. and Paul Simon, and raised money for Staying Put in New Canaan. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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The best place in the county to be for the best value in entertainment Sunday night was the New Canaan High School auditorium, according to NBC's Brian Williams.

New Canaan's Harry Connick Jr. and Paul Simon performed on the high school stage in a benefit concert to honor the town's first responders, some of whom sat on stage while the two entertained.

The event raised funds for Staying Put in New Canaan, which also hosted it. Staying Put in New Canaan is a nonprofit organization that supports senior citizens in town so that they may continue to live in New Canaan.

"We are extremely fortunate to have truly world-class talent from New Canaan on stage tonight," said Tom Ferguson, Staying Put in New Canaan board president. The event came together in the course of the last month.

The concert was first of its kind, according to Jim Cole, chairman of the Police Commission and former director of emergency preparedness.

"To actually be that close to see performers of that caliber who actually live in my town, it was really quite an experience," Cole said.

Members of the four emergency response teams -- CERT, police and fire departments and the volunteer ambulance corps -- sat on stage with the performers.

Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and executive producer, and his daughter, Allison Williams, an actress on HBO's "Girls," co-hosted the concert.

Brian Williams said he could contact Simon and Connick, both of whom live in New Canaan, while speaking with Pat Stoddard, Williams' mother-in-law and one of the founders of Staying Put in New Canaan, about a possible concert to benefit the first responders,

"So I wrote Harry Connick Jr. and Paul Simon and that's where my involvement ends," Williams told the crowd. "These two guys said yes."

Roughly 1,100 seats were sold for the auditorium and in the high school's Wagner Room, where the event was telecast, according to Jane Nyce, Staying Put in New Canaan executive director. Online tickets sold out in three days, Nyce said. She added that it's not known how much money the event raised but that the funds would fuel the long-term reserve fund for the organization.

"It's so wonderful to dramatize our thanks for all (the first responders) do," Nyce said. "Staying Put benefits so much from our first responders that it was great to be the machine behind this program to bring it to fruition."

Nyce said the concert felt like a "very, very New Canaan hometown show."

Just before the Williamses introduced Connick, they interrupted themselves. "I still can't believe this is happening tonight."

Connick played a New Orleans-style jazz piece on piano before addressing the audience.

"It's really weird to be on this stage," Connick said to the laughing audience. "I hardly play piano at home, let alone in New Canaan. The real reason I am here to make sure that I will never get a parking or speeding ticket. We can make that work. We don't have to go over the details now, but that would be great."

Following Connick's roughly 40-minute performance, Williams returned to the stage to speak more about Staying Put and the emergency responders' role.

"If home is where the heart is, why go anywhere else?" Williams said. Staying Put "only works thanks to those who we're honoring tonight."

Before Simon even plucked a string on his acoustic guitar, the crowd rose to its feet for the first of multiple standing ovations during his performance.

"Hello my friends," Simon said after playing "Sound of Silence" and "Slip Slidding Away."

"And go Rams -- at least against Darien," he said.

Simon would play for another 15 minutes before he invited Connick back on stage to play two songs together.

Cole said that while on stage listening to Simon play "Mrs. Robinson," memories of younger days came back.

"I can actually feel -- physically feel -- his music and it brought back memories and we're just thrilled to be part of this," Cole said.

There were 189 first responders in the audience, Nyce said.

"This is a really good thing," Cole said. "They always feel a little under appreciated. You know the fire fighters travel in a big truck and they go to help people and every one is always very grateful. Police have a somewhat different aura about them. Our police are unusual in that they do more of community policing and helping people in town. They're really very appreciative when they get a sign from the community that they are really appreciated."

mspicer@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews